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What will a negotiated peace look like?

It is common in war that parties to the conflict spend the greater majority of the conflict stating inconsistent negotiating positions, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is no different. Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is ready for peace talks, but he is ambiguous as to what their terms might be. It would appear that his peace terms might be retention into the Russian Federation of the territories occupied by Russia since 2014; and guarantees that Ukraine will not join NATO, together with some sort of regime in Kyiv. All these things are totally unacceptable to Kyiv, which insists upon expulsion of Russian troops from occupied Ukrainian territory in their entirety, and wants Ukraine to join NATO. So there seems no possibility of any negotiated resolution of the war and the conflict will continue. Peace mediation efforts by Turkey amongst others have come to naught and this is unlikely to change. But the war will end at some point; all wars do. How then will it end?

Sometimes wars end with decisive battlefield victories but it seems unlikely that this is one of those sorts of war. The principal problem appears to be that neither Ukrainian nor Russian Armed Forces are in a position to dislodge the other substantially from their heavily ingrained and fortified front line positions. All they can do is each to pound the other side, causing civilian loss of life and military fatalities but not significantly changing the front line. A handful of villages have changed hands in the course of the war, being mostly totally destroyed in the process; but there are no major pushes and neither side seems particularly inclined even to try by reason of the massive losses that would be incurred in trying to do so.

If a negotiated peace cannot be agreed, then it can be imposed through inertia and the model for this is the end of the Korean War in 1953 as well as, to an extent, the conclusion of the Bosnian war in 1995 in which a peace agreement was imposed down the barrel of a gun by a third party, the United States. (The Bosnians did not have much of a say in what was being negotiated.) In Korea, the United States inserted a substantial number of troops (still around 28,500 soldiers some 70 years on) in between the two warring parties which is a classic peacekeeping role. There was an armistice but never a formal peace treaty and formally North and South Korea are still at war. This continues to the present day and there are occasional flare-up incidents. The front line between Russia and Ukraine is most likely to end up the same way: with foreign peacekeepers between the parties to deter them from carrying on fighting, and no formal peace agreement.

There is already talk of this, as some authors in the Lviv Herald have predicted, NATO troops are preparing to enter Ukraine - and earlier than this writer predicted. It is thought that between 80,000 and 100,000 NATO troops may enter Ukraine to police the front line in Ukraine and that this may begin as early as May 2024. The Initial contingent of NATO troops may not include soldiers from the United States, which is what ultimately would be required; that may take a delay until 2025, once the consequences of the US General Election in November 2024 have shaken down. Nevertheless the European members of NATO are starting to understand that their direct intervention is necessary to prevent the current conflict from spiralling down into having catastrophic consequences and the European militaries are starting to commit ever further resources to the NATO architecture and to expanding the number of NATO allies with the AUKUS partnership that draws in Australia to NATO, in effect, by creating a mutual military defence pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. This potentially lays the way for Australian troops to join NATO soldiers as peacekeepers in Ukraine.

With 80,000-100,000 troops along a 1,000 kilometre front line, there is the scope for a substantial peacekeeping force along the world’s longest land battle frontier and this may well bring a cessation in hostilities: a form of imposed de facto armistice of the kind found in Korea. Russia and Ukraine themselves are unlikely to agree anything formally. Ukraine will never recognise the Russian annexation of her territory and neither will the rest of the world. However hostilities may crease. A group of international powers may negotiate between themselves a future for Ukraine-Russia relations, to which Ukraine and Russia may be invited but, a little like the Versailles Peace Negotiations, they may not have an opportunity to veto and they may not be invited to agree to. Ukraine’s accession to NATO - at least, “free Ukraine” - seems likely, as does an understanding that Ukraine will join the European Union. Free elections in Ukraine will be a prerequisite for continued western support, so Mr Zelenskiy will have to submit himself to a genuine test at the ballot box. NATO and other allied troops may be stationed along the Dnipro River and the Donbas front line indefinitely, as has taken place in Korea, and the Ukrainian “Dayton Peace Accords” will contain a complex series of state-building measures for free Ukraine with international oversight, just as did the peace accords ending the Bosnian war. This may all happen earlier than we imagine, if as rumours suggest NATO is to enter Ukraine in the coming summer fighting season. This will save lives, but Russia will remain a pariah state, under comprehensive international sanctions, indefinitely. At the current time this is our most optimistic prediction and our best hope.


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